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October 14, 2014

"Could firing squad make a comeback in Utah, elsewhere?"

1424181The question in the title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new article discussing, yet again, possible alternatives to lethal injection as a means to carry out death sentences.  Though covering some familiar ground, this article provides a useful reminder that it has been only a few years since the last firing squad execution in the United States and highlights reasons why states seriously committed to carrying out executions ought to be seriously considering this "classic" execution method again. Here are excerpts:

When Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad in 2010 at the Utah State Prison in Draper, more than 59 journalists from news outlets from around the globe descended upon Utah to cover the event. Reporters from Japan and Great Britain called it “a Wild West way of dispatching people” and referenced John Wayne movies.

But as anti-death penalty pharmaceutical companies in Europe refuse to sell the drugs necessary for lethal injections to prisons in the United States and in the wake of botched lethal injection executions in recent months, the firing squad could be making its return to Utah and other places. “I’ve had several states actually call (to ask about the firing squad),” Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said. “They asked me not to name them because they don’t want the media circus on it. But they’re in the same boat we are — they can’t get the drugs, either.”

Botched executions involving lethal injections in Arizona, Oklahoma and Ohio earlier this year have led Ray to believe that the method could face constitutional challenges as well. For that reason, he is proposing legislation that would bring back the firing squad as the secondary execution method in Utah, should the primary method, lethal injection, be found unconstitutional or unavailable. “It really won’t do anything,” Ray said. “It’s just the plan B if we need it.”

A law passed in 2004 eliminated death by firing squad in Utah, but those on death row who requested such a death prior to the new law still have the option. Ray said the legislation he is proposing would restore the firing squad as a possible execution method, but eliminate the inmate choice. “It will be lethal injection, and then, if the drugs are not there, or it is unconstitutional, then it will be firing squad,” Ray explained. “There is no option for the inmates.”

Utah's firing squad comprises five riflemen, all certified law enforcement officers, using 30-30 rifles. Four of the guns are loaded with live ammunition and one is loaded with a blank before the officers shoot in unison.

Ray acknowledged that part of the reason the method was eliminated was due to the extra attention that surrounded it. But he said there is always going to be interest around executions, especially among international media. The firing squad may heighten that interest, but Ray doesn't balk at it as an execution method.

“It is actually the most humane,” he said. “The individual is usually dead before they can even hear the gunshot. It’s four bullets to the heart, so it’s not ‘How long did it take for him to die? Could he breathe? Did he feel it?’”

Wyoming Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, decided to propose the firing squad as Wyoming’s secondary execution method, because he said it is what he would choose if forced to select to among the alternatives to lethal injection. “It became a matter of personal prejudice and if I was the one that was being executed,” Burns said.

Wyoming’s current backup if lethal injection is unavailable is the gas chamber, which Burns felt was impractical for a number of reasons. For one, the state doesn’t have a gas chamber, and building one — and the possible litigation prompted by a decision to build one — would be expensive. “It would cost millions of dollars to build one,” Burns said. “And sometimes you have to put your own experience into it and I think the gas chamber would be a horrible way to kill somebody.”... “I do like the way Utah did it,” Burns said. “Utah has a very good protocol. If we pass this, I would hope the Wyoming Department of Corrections would look to the protocol that Utah uses.”...

Even before the botched executions, Burns noticed the difficulty getting lethal injection drugs from companies in the European Union. He proposed a bill to implement the firing squad in Wyoming’s legislative session this past January. It didn’t pass, but officials from the Wyoming Department of Corrections came forward and spoke about the difficulties states around the nation are facing when it comes to obtaining drugs for lethal injections, and the Wyoming Legislature’s Judiciary Committee decided to look at the issue. Lawmakers have since decided to sponsor the firing squad bill in the upcoming legislative session in January....

Burns said the the Wyoming Legislature’s Judiciary Committee recently had an extended debate about the death penalty and whether to eliminate it altogether. A proposed bill was even drafted. “It went down and not by a whole lot,” Burns said, before adding that he likes where Wyoming stands now with just one man on death row. “We have 22 people in prison for life without parole, and any one of those 22 could have been a capital case. We haven’t executed anyone since 1992, so we use it infrequently.”

Still, he believes the death penalty is an important tool in the criminal justice system to be used as needed. “I’m not a fan of using it more, but I would like to have it there in reserve for those crimes that are so horrible and so heinous that the person doesn’t even deserve life without parole,” Burns said.

A few recent related and older posts:

October 14, 2014 at 11:31 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I didn't realize it was so recent. See here:

http://www.ksl.com/?sid=11194774

Note how a critic of lethal injection argues the firing squad is more humane. Its usage in Utah has particular connection with Mormon thought but in general -- as seen by Gary Gilmore -- a person can logically prefer it as more "manly" or safer.

If we continue to have the death penalty, the best approach would be the least wrong way to do it, be it the firing squad, nitrogen gas or whatever. I continue to think the firing squad will not be expanded for various reasons, including the more direct involvement of more people in the execution and overall squickiness.

Still, it's an important issue and I appreciate the continual coverage.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 14, 2014 12:46:00 PM

A few things stand out. One is how states and institutions can speak and call on the phone. That suggests the firing squad appeal may be bigger than it is because maybe a janitor in a government building called and asked about it.

It is also easy for Mr. Burns to say what he would like, but it is very possible he could be one of ones dragging out his appeals for as long as possible so he could live as long as possible.

Probably most important is the 30-30 loaded with a blank as if that is supposed to help. It is possible that if someone volunteered for the firing squad he (and soon she?) would have no qualms and feel no guilt given the most heinous crimes. But that presumes all the crimes of those on death row are equally heinous. The point being the fact that a blank is used at all shows the short comings of this method. It flagrantly reveals the hypocrisy of state killing to condemn killing. That is what the blank round means.

Posted by: George | Oct 14, 2014 3:12:12 PM

Well, itsa 'bout time things got back to normal with how to kill. Nice try needlin' everbody to death, but we'll be chillin' with the killin' by getting back to good-ol full-proof bullets.

Beside, anything that helps the U.S. gun industry is a good thing.

Posted by: Al Ammo | Oct 16, 2014 12:15:43 PM

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